Brood Parasitism and Cooperative Breeding: Seeking an Evolutionary Link

  • Vittorio BaglioneEmail author
  • Daniela Canestrari
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


From an evolutionary point of view, cooperative breeding and brood parasitism seem to have little in common. In avian cooperative species, individuals help feed young that are not their offspring, whereas brood parasites exploit the parental behaviour of a host, thus avoiding the costs of raising their progeny. Recent evidence, however, uncovered an evolutionary link between the two systems. On the one hand, it has been shown theoretically and empirically that conspecific brood parasitism (CBP) and cooperative breeding can be extremes of a continuum of parental care, where kinship among interacting females and ecological constraints on independent reproduction shape individual decisions. On the other hand, cooperative breeding and interspecific brood parasitism (IBP) might co-evolve, because the benefits of extra-care may select for a preference of nests with helpers in parasites, whereas a defensive function of helpers against the parasites would promote cooperative breeding in hosts. According to this hypothesis, the richness of cooperative species and brood parasites worldwide shows striking similarities, and within the two major host spots (Australasia and sub-Saharan Africa), passerine species that host obligate brood parasites are more likely to breed cooperatively. Although we have just begun to unravel the link between cooperative breeding and brood parasitism, the results have already widened our perspective on the evolution of avian breeding systems. Future studies that aim at building this bridge should therefore be encouraged.



We are very grateful to Bruce Lyon, Eli Geffen and Manuel Soler for the useful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter. Financial support was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CGL2016-77636-P) to VB.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biodiversity and Environmental ManagementUniversity of LeónLeónSpain
  2. 2.Department of Biology of Organisms and SystemsUniversity of OviedoOviedoSpain
  3. 3.Unidad Mixta de Investigación en Biodiversidad (CSIC, UO, PA)MieresSpain

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